My local branch​ of the Communist Party of China has 34 members and is usually quite active. Fourteen study notices were sent out last year, each containing a two to three-hour video course. But in the first half of this year, the branch secretary sent out just three notices. The first was in January, when he posted a ‘Notice seeking opinions on representatives from the Beijing branch for the Twentieth Party Congress’. This is an essential grassroots level process conducted ahead of every party congress. The Twentieth Party Congress will be held on 16 October and Xi Jinping is expected to break with the two-term limit and be re-elected as general secretary, guaranteeing his re-election as president. The notice was sent out at 2.47 p.m. on 19 January. The branch secretary wrote: ‘Because of time constraints, please reply before 3.20 p.m. today. If you don’t reply [before the deadline], your opinion will be regarded as consent.’

The Word file we received listed the six proposed representatives from our local district, with their dates of birth, current party and administrative positions, and any awards or honorary titles they may have received. There were four men and two women. Their names were unfamiliar, but we recognised their positions and titles. First on the list was the general secretary of the district party committee. He has the highest administrative rank in our district, one of sixteen in Beijing. He was also the only one of the candidates without a medal. The other candidates were the heads of a local centre for disease control, a police station, a local court, a labour dispute arbitration court and a subdistrict community. Their medals included Outstanding Communist Party Member, March Eighth Red Flag Bearer (to commemorate International Women’s Day), May First Labour Medal and National Advanced Individual in Fighting against the Coronavirus Pandemic. Since this wasn’t an election we could vote in, we didn’t have to do much. We could call the branch office to express our consent verbally, or reply to the message with the word ‘agree’. In Beijing, there are 2.2 million party members, one in every ten citizens. My branch is one of 95,000 basic-level party branches in Beijing. The total number of party members in China was 96.7 million in 2021 (a net increase of 3.4 million, or 3.6 per cent, over 2020), organised into 4.9 million branches across the country. All members received similar notices in January, and all gave their ‘consent’ (actively or passively).

The second notice was sent on 4 May: ‘The current situation regarding coronavirus prevention and control is severe and complicated. In order to fight the tough battle, we now call on party members to work on the frontline in your community, to participate in epidemic prevention and control work.’ A few Omicron cases had been detected near my apartment community, making it the first in Beijing to be locked down this year. The atmosphere in the party branch was positive and orderly. No one complained, no one expressed their true feelings. Party member volunteers added their names to the duty roster. Each morning those on duty went to the community centre to put on white protective suits and then went from building to building, calling residents downstairs for testing. In return for their service, they had their volunteer hours authenticated by the party branch. The person who ranked first among our community volunteers worked for 71 hours during the lockdown month.

The third notice was a reminder about paying party dues. The ‘E-home for CPC Members’ app has been experiencing bugs since its launch, with the result that many members haven’t paid for the last six months. For most civil servants, the dues are between 1.5 and 2 per cent of their after-tax salary. The party constitution stipulates: ‘Without justifiable reason, members who do not participate in the party’s organisational life, or do not pay party dues, or do not perform the work assigned to them for six consecutive months, will be expelled from the party.’ We had never heard of anyone being expelled because they did not pay their party dues. The branch secretary stated vaguely that he would report the issue to his superior, and would notify us once the payment channel was fixed.

In July, our party branch finally turned to members’ study, which for the past few years has been mostly online. Since Xi Jinping took office, ideological study has taken up more and more of our time. Party members are required to learn Xi’s speeches. We are asked to absorb them ‘into the brain’ (the organ of rationality and logic) and ‘into the heart’ (emotion and loyalty) and then ‘combine learning with doing’. The party organisation is continually coming up with new ways to encourage and compel party members to study, study and study, and to monitor them doing it.

A small number of ‘elite’ party members study full-time for a period in special schools. This year, the Central Party School accepted more than six hundred senior cadres, selected by the central and provincial governments, to study for five months at its campus in the north-west corner of Beijing. One of my acquaintances took part. I was surprised by how much he changed in five months. He now eats healthy meals three times a day, drinks no alcohol, goes to bed early and works out all the time. There wasn’t much else to do at the school. He walked for an hour each day around an artificial lake, with shining koi carp and an island of black swans. He lost five kilograms. His experience is said to be common. Before they are allowed to graduate and leave the campus, the Organisation Department of the Central Committee of the CPC interviews the cadres to find out whether they have reached their study targets and expressed full loyalty to Xi Jinping and the party. Their spiritual harvest is intangible right now, but it may become tangible later on when they progress up the party ladder.

This summer, most party members, myself included, have had to study Xi Jinping Thought using newly developed websites. Our branch secretary gave our ID card information to a website developer: to log on, all we needed to enter was our ID number, using the last six digits as the password. Every citizen of China has a unique ID number, 18 digits long, which serves as both medical insurance and social security number. It is made up of the codes for a person’s household registration province, city, district, county, date of birth and the police station under whose jurisdiction they live. The penultimate digit is for gender identification (odd numbers are male, even numbers are female).

When I log on, I discover that my mobile phone number is stored in the ‘Personal Account Information’. I feel uncomfortable about this kind of thing, but am used to it. I click on ‘Training Plan’ under ‘Learning Centre’ and see that there are twelve compulsory courses, lasting a total of fifty hours. The completion date is 31 December 2022, but the branch secretary has told us we must finish before the end of November. The party branch needs time to write up the reports that will bring the year’s study to a successful conclusion. I shouldn’t complain. Members who work in branch offices must study for eighty hours; the further up the hierarchy you go, the more time you’re expected to put in.

The titles of the twelve courses are overwhelming:

1. Guide to Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era

2. The Belt and Road Initiative: Rebuilding China, Rebuilding the World

3. The Fourteenth Five-Year Plan for National Economic and Social Development of the People’s Republic of China and an Outline of the Vision for 2035

4. Xi Jinping Ecological Civilisation Thought

5. Climb over the Hurdle and Reach a New Level, and Unite Together for the Future: Interpretation of the Spirit of the National Two Sessions in 2022

6. Cores and Keys: What Kind of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics Will We Uphold and Develop in the New Era?

7. From the CPC’s History: A Century of Progress

8. Beyond the Millennium: The Achievements and Experience of the CPC in Building a New China

9. Knowledge and Practice of Coronavirus Epidemic Prevention and Control under the Normalisation of the Pandemic

10. Health Starts from the Heart

11. Exploration and Future of Blockchain Applications

12. Sleep Problems and Their Prevention for Workplace Employees

The first course contains ten hours of lectures, and the other eleven between three to six hours each. Where do I start? I click on the first course, which deals with the most important subject: Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. Since each general secretary of the Central Committee of the CPC creates a ‘theory’ while in power and enters it into the constitution, the constitution’s second paragraph – the guide to action – gets longer and longer. Marxism-Leninism and Mao Zedong Thought are followed by Deng Xiaoping Theory, the Three Represents of Jiang Zemin, the Scientific Outlook on Development (by Hu Jintao) and now Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想, or Xi Jin Ping Xin Shi Dai Zhong Guo Te Se She Hui Zhu Yi Si Xiang, abbreviated as ‘XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX’). Whether or not Xi has surpassed his predecessors in the quality of his theory, he has certainly surpassed them in the number of characters needed to describe it. Newsreaders, party members and even party school professors struggle with them. People have speculated that the long string of characters reflects the depth of his theory; coincidentally, it makes it difficult to abbreviate. The media and party cadres usually simplify it to Xi Jinping Thought, placing it shoulder to shoulder with Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory. So far, however, no official document has contained the phrase itself. As I write, before the Party Congress, Xi hasn’t been elevated to the same level as Mao and Deng. So I’ll use XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX where necessary.

The first lecture begins (after a few minutes of the ‘please wait patiently, we are trying hard to load’ emoji) with patriotic music, pictures of Xi surrounded by crowds, videos of clover-leaf mega-highways and aeroplanes taking off, a busy harbour with giant cranes and ships, a time-lapse of cities with clouds rushing past. I try to make the video bigger but when I press the maximise button I just get the same size screen in a larger black box. It reminds me of the bug-ridden party members’ app.

To protect our eyesight, the background colour changes from the bright red of the party flag to a dark green when the lecturer appears. Dr Song is a professor at the Central Party School of the CPC, a doctor of law and director of the Ideological and Political Education Teaching and Research Section of the Marxist Theory Teaching and Research Department of the Central Party School. He holds several other even longer titles. He has a plump face and a plump torso and wears a pair of frameless glasses and a loose short-sleeved wrinkle-free white shirt. His hair (parted to one side of his head) is dyed an age-defying pitch black. He is a replica of the party members in central, provincial, municipal and county governments, who all adopt the dress and hairstyle of the general secretary.

Dr Song is positioned in the lower right corner of the screen to make space for the text of XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX. ‘As we all know,’ he says, ‘the Nineteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China has demonstrably incorporated Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era into the party’s guiding ideology.’ He begins to read the text on the screen behind him and continues to do so for the next five minutes.

I hear ‘the inheritance and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory’; ‘the latest achievements in sinicising Marxism’; ‘the crystallisation of the experience and collective wisdom of the party and the people [the words are from the original text of the Nineteenth Party Congress report, which celebrates Xi’s creation of party thought] … it serves as an action guide for our whole party and for all the people to strive for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.’ He reads slowly to ensure he doesn’t trip over the super-long phrases. Perhaps he has practised it over and over again. He continues to read: ‘As we all know, the constitutional amendment passed by the National People’s Congress in March 2018 further established XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX as the guiding ideology of our country. Since XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX has become the guiding ideology of the party and the country, in the future our major policies must in all aspects be based on XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX. This also means that in order to advance our cause and do our work well, we must fully and accurately grasp XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX.’ The sixteen-character phrase doesn’t cause him too much trouble. The first section ends.

I don’t think he is saying anything. But I also know what he is really saying. Dr Song continues: ‘As we all know, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is a huge ideological system.’ He has said ‘as we all know’ three times so far. If ‘we all know’, why do we have to listen for fifty hours? We all know, without putting it into words, that the upcoming Twentieth Party Congress is supposed to see the general secretary step down and hand over power to a leader from the next generation. But this will not happen.

Dr Song is expressionless, only his mouth moves, and he maintains a constant speed and pitch of delivery. Although he has ten hours to interpret XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX, his own comments are limited to restatements of the text, prefaced by ‘I understand that this sentence means …’ He maintains a humble attitude because ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is very large and systematic,’ ‘important’, ‘profound’, ‘matters for China’s future and destiny, determines the great rejuvenation of the nation’. He attempts to make us understand by means of ‘a not so accurate analogy. It is like climbing a mountain. When you stand higher up you have a wider view, and only when you have a wide view can you see the mountain range.’ Even primary school students can recite more appropriate expressions of this idea, from Du Fu of the Tang Dynasty (‘Someday I will climb up to the highest summit of Mount Tai, and with one sweeping view see how small all other mountains are’) or Wang Zhihuan (‘You can enjoy a grander sight, by climbing to a greater height’) or Su Shi of the Song Dynasty (‘I don’t know the true face of Mount Lu only because I am on the mountain’). But the lecture reflects Xi Jinping’s style, using ‘language that ordinary people can understand’.

What is XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX about? The report of the Nineteenth Party Congress divides XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX into 八个明确 (Eight Clarifications) and 十四个坚持 (Fourteen Imperatives). Under the clarifications and imperatives are further divisions, such as the ‘Five-Sphere Integrated Plan’ for co-ordinating economic, political, cultural, social and environmental progress, and the ‘Four-Pronged Comprehensive Strategy’ for building a modern socialist country, furthering reform, advancing the rule of socialist law and strengthening party self-governance. There are the ‘Four Self-Confidences’: self-confidence in the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, self-confidence in the truth of the theory, self-confidence in the superiority of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics and self-confidence in China’s cultural values. The ‘Two Upholds’ are resolutely upholding the authority and leadership of the Party Central Committee, and resolutely upholding General Secretary Xi Jinping’s position as the centre of the Central Committee and the core of the entire party. There are more. But I find it challenging enough to concentrate for three hours on Dr Song’s report on the clarifications and imperatives.

The Eight Clarifications are given in separate lengthy slides. I will summarise them (something Dr Song did not attempt). They state: 1. the overarching task (to realise socialist modernisation and rejuvenate the nation); 2. the principal social conflict (the contradiction between the people’s need for a better life and inadequate development); 3. the plan for building socialism with Chinese characteristics; 4. the goal of improving the socialist system and modernising the system of governance; 5. the goal of building a socialist country subject to the socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics; 6. the goal of strengthening the army in the new era (including creating a world-class people’s army that obeys the party command); 7. the objective of fostering a new type of international relations and building a global community with a common destiny for all mankind. The final clarification, the eighth, is worth quoting in full:

That the essential feature of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the CPC; that the greatest advantage of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics is the leadership of the CPC; that the party is the highest force of political leadership, setting forth the general requirements for strengthening the party in the new era and emphasising the importance of reinforcing the party’s political foundations.

(The object of each clause is ‘the party’; amazingly, in this fundamental document the grammar of the Chinese text isn’t clear.)

The Fourteen Imperatives are shorter. They all include the phrase ‘adhere to’ and are essentially a list of what party members must do to implement XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX. Party members must adhere to: 1. party leadership over all endeavours; 2. people-centred development; 3. comprehensive and in-depth reform; 4. a new vision for development; 5. the people running the country; 6. socialist law-based governance; 7. core socialist values; 8. improvement of people’s lives through development; 9. harmony between humanity and nature; 10. a holistic approach to national security; 11. absolute party leadership over the people’s army; 12. the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ for national reunification; 13. the building of a global community with a common destiny; 14. the full and rigorous implementation of party discipline.

Not long after the video started, my computer keyboard started to get hot and the machine began to hum. It wasn’t a good sign. To get through the lecture quickly, I tried dragging the progress bar to the end, a trick we used last year. To my horror, when I returned to play the next lecture, the program told me that I had only watched 42 per cent of the first lecture. It didn’t tell me which 42 per cent. The developers had improved their surveillance since last year’s study session.

The easiest solution is to play the video on another computer or a mobile phone, which leaves you free to concentrate on other things. Someone must have tried this workaround, however, because there was soon a report in the WeChat group: ‘There is a problem with the website design … it says there is a conflict between my computer login and mobile phone login.’ The branch secretary said the website had been tested and launched only a few days earlier, but he would contact the developer.

The developer’s information is listed at the bottom of the website. The company, headquartered in Beijing, is called Sixiang Tianxia Education Technology Co. Ltd. Sixiang and Tianxia are big words in Chinese. Sixiang means ‘thought’, as in Mao Zedong Thought. Tian is a character representing the sky, the heavens or the emperor, and Tianxia (literally ‘underneath the sky’) means ‘the world’. The company was established in July 2013, eight months after Xi Jinping took office. Last year, it was awarded the title ‘little giant company’ and its party branch won the title of ‘advanced grassroots party branch’ (every company, private or public, domestic or joint venture, is required to set up its own branch once three or more of its employees are party members). Sixiang Tianxia’s business is expanding. Earlier this year it opened new offices in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Less than a month after we were asked to start the study plan, when my progress still hovered around five hours, a member of the branch said: ‘Report to the secretary: my fifty-hour learning task of this year has been completed!’ Soon, a few more members announced that they, too, had completed the training. In theory this means that they studied for two hours a day, including weekends, for 25 consecutive days. They should be glad that ‘Wise Thought for Political Education’ wasn’t put into operation. ‘Wise Thought’ is a euphemism for artificial intelligence. This new technology was presented on the party’s 101st birthday on 1 July this year by a team of scientists from the National Science Centre for Artificial Intelligence Research Institute. The equipment looks like an ATM booth. Inside the booth, a chair faces a computer terminal with a touch screen. On the screen is the webpage of Xuexi Qiangguo, an app that teaches XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX (since 2019, the app has been among the most downloaded items on Apple’s Chinese app store). The right side of the screen charts the user’s ‘concentration’, ‘emotional acceptance’ and ‘mastery of ideological and political education’, as assessed from machine-learning analysis of ‘facial features, EEG and skin conductance’. Following negative comments by netizens about Wise Thought’s resemblance to a dystopian movie, news of the technology was deleted from the internet and the demonstration version was stored in the institute’s warehouse.

I don’t know what tricks my fellow party members used, but if you Google ‘Xuexi Qiangguo plug-in’ or ‘Xuexi Qiangguo assistant’ in Chinese you’ll find some useful gadgets to browse webpages and watch videos on your behalf. These gadgets, the developers say, ‘free your hands so you need no longer worry about wasting time learning Xi’. They allow us to complete the compulsory tasks the party sets us with the minimum of effort. One plug-in, called TechXueXi, can automatically ‘learn’ and answer questions on the app. The demonstration video is on YouTube, which is banned in mainland China (as is Google). Another plug-in, also introduced on YouTube, is playfully named Xuexi Little Bear. Its logo is Winnie the Pooh, who has been erased from the internet in China because of his resemblance to Xi. ‘Since you are here on YouTube,’ the video says, ‘you must be able to visit the Chrome app store and download my Xuexi Little Bear.’ When you launch the app, Winnie the Pooh appears and plays CCTV videos in fast-forward mode. Party representatives in white shirts and dark trousers walk through the Great Hall of the People like sped-up cartoon characters. The speaker on the podium looks up and down at his script, moving faster than Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator. In two minutes, Winnie has completed one day’s task, which would have taken the user an hour, working unassisted.

The study of XJPXSDZGTSSHZYSX isn’t limited to party members, or to adults. When schools went back in September, students found a new textbook, Student Book of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era. In April, the ministry of education issued a new curriculum for compulsory education and stipulated that it adopt ‘the implementation of the Student Book of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as its main task’. The ministry has developed four editions of the Xi textbooks for primary school, junior and senior high school students. On the covers of all of them are quotes from Xi Jinping. When children under ten get out their textbooks, the first thing they read is: ‘Do up life’s first button well.’ The motto for ten to twelve-year-olds is: ‘Happiness is achieved through hard work.’ The official media call these words ‘golden sentences containing the power of truth, thought, wisdom and personality’, and Xi classes are called ‘golden lessons’. The ‘happiness’ quote was taken from Xi’s 2018 New Year address, and has spread across Chinese TV channels, billboards and the internet. The sentence preceding it reads: ‘No pies fall from the sky.’

A mother whose ten-year-old son attends one of Beijing’s elite state primary schools told me: ‘I can’t tell the difference between the Chinese language classes and the ideology classes.’ This is consistent with, indeed is stipulated in, the new curriculum. The ministry of education requires the integration of Xi lessons not only into Chinese language and history classes, but mathematics, physics, geography and even PE. The textbook for the lower years of primary school includes ‘Lesson Two: I follow the Communist Party wholeheartedly,’ which has a section titled ‘Grandpa Xi Jinping cares about the people.’ The lesson plan instructs teachers to

infiltrate the essence of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era to students so that they seek happiness for the people, rejuvenation for the nation and contribute to the world. The class is designed to make students feel love and admiration for President Xi Jinping from the bottom of their hearts, and to feel proud that China has such a great leader.

Teaching plans for older classes suggest that teachers ask: ‘Do you know how the people exercise their rights to govern the country? Please discuss this in a group, based on your life experience, literature review and interviews.’ The expected answer is: ‘I know that the people exercise their rights through the national and local people’s congresses. My family members have participated in the election of representatives to the people’s congress.’ One day my friend’s child, who will have been educated like this, will type ‘agree’, just as I did when voting for this year’s Party Congress representatives from my branch. A generation of children are learning to recite the quotes of Xi Jinping and will remember them all their lives, just as my generation and my parents’ generation can quote Mao.

At the end of August, on the same day it was announced that the Twentieth Party Congress would be held on 16 October, more than 1600 cities declared themselves high-risk Covid areas, and more than 1400 medium-risk. As a result, millions of residents were once again locked up in their homes, including the inhabitants of eight cities with populations of more than ten million. Eighty-seven cities declared their change of status within an hour of the announcement. Carrying out the draconian zero-Covid policy was an effective way for party secretaries in these cities to prove their loyalty to Xi. In Hebei, the ‘moat of Beijing’, the local secretary general announced that the province would be cleared of Covid cases within five days. ‘If the goal is not achieved, the party secretary of the city/district/county will be dismissed.’ One district issued a notice to citizens warning that those who refused to co-operate would be punished. In this way, thousands of provincial secretary generals proclaimed their loyalty. Outshining them all was the secretary general of Tianjin, who stated: ‘If loyalty is not absolute, it is absolute disloyalty.’

On 5 September, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck Sichuan province, causing buildings to shake in the capital, Chengdu. Local residents, already enduring a lockdown, a heatwave and power outages due to the high demand for electricity, rushed downstairs to find the gates to their buildings locked. A community head sent a warning message on WeChat: ‘Do not try to escape.’ He explained to the People’s Daily that it was safest to stay at home in a lockdown, even during an earthquake.

Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province in south-west China, has a famous area called Hua Guo Yuan (‘Garden of Flowers and Fruits’), which is home to half a million residents. One evening, a resident uploaded a picture showing two tall buildings next to each other. Hundreds of brightly lit windows in one building stood out against the night fog. The building next to it was in complete darkness. Its inhabitants had been subject to ‘dynamic clearance’, a process in which Covid-positive cases and those in contact with them, including families living in the same building, are put on coaches and transferred to a different administrative zone. The authorities can thus declare that they have realised the government’s goal of achieving zero cases – at least in the area for which they are responsible. Those who refuse to ‘co-operate’ can be detained or fined, and may end up with a criminal record, or be put on a blacklist of ‘untrustworthy persons’, which prevents them from getting bank loans and, along with their family members, from joining the army or the party, or holding jobs in the civil service or other government employment. In these circumstances, no one refuses to be relocated.

For a short time, videos showing the evacuation scenes evaded internet censorship and were uploaded to YouTube. Residents wearing light blue gowns could be seen queuing up quietly in two rows to get on the coaches. They were shown sealed inside the coaches, with the windows locked and the air-conditioning turned off to prevent transmission. People who are being relocated don’t eat or drink for hours because they aren’t allowed to get off the coach to use the toilet. Often their destination is an unfinished building, with walls and floors of bare concrete. One video showed a bathroom with the floor covered in water, and two bricks to step on. The toilet was like an island in the dirty water. A voice on the video said: ‘This is worse than prison. We are not criminals. We didn’t do anything wrong.’

Another video showed the scene in a police station in Guiyang. Dozens of citizens who had been arrested were lined up: each held a piece of paper in front of his or her chest bearing their photograph, personal information and the punishment they were to receive. They had all been arrested because they left their homes without authorisation. A loud voice spoke while the camera scanned their faces. ‘If anyone does this again, the police department will punish you according to the Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Public Security and Punishment. If you commit a crime, you will be held responsible. Do you understand?’ Everyone answered that they understood, their eyes visible above their masks, trying to avoid the camera.

On 18 September at 2.40 a.m., one of the coaches transferring citizens out of Guiyang rolled off the highway and down an eight-metre slope. Twenty-seven people were killed and twenty were injured. The passengers, together with hundreds of others, had been put on coaches at midnight with no information as to where they were being taken or why. Almost all of them had tested negative for Covid, but were on the coach because one or more cases had been detected in their community. According to messages sent by the passengers, the bus drivers, who wore protective white gowns, were exhausted due to lack of sleep. Some of the passengers had heard that they were being sent to Libo, a smaller city about seven hours from the capital. Coaches continued to arrive for Guiyang residents even after the crash. There are 38 million people living in Guizhou, and there have been 309 official Covid cases and two deaths in the province since the start of the pandemic.

In Xinjiang, the deputy secretary general of the party committee in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture held a press conference to refute rumours that had gone viral. Was it true that residents locked down in their homes had to hang ropes from their windows in order to get food, throw out their trash or hand over testing swabs? Two volunteers were responsible for that, he said, not the government’s community staff. The two volunteers apologised. Was it true that children suffering from high fevers had not been allowed to go to hospital? The community centre sent staff to see the children, gave them a three-day dose of Lianhua Qingwen capsules (the main ingredients of which are forsythia and honeysuckle) and called an ambulance. ‘Now the children’s condition has improved. Their temperatures have come down.’ Was it true that an old man hanged himself because of hunger while in lockdown? Rumour. The rumourmonger has been severely punished.

Meanwhile, I have made progress with my required study. I have watched the lecture for the ninth course, ‘Knowledge and Practice of Coronavirus Epidemic Prevention and Control under the Normalisation of the Pandemic’. The lecturer quoted Xi Jinping’s speech about the pandemic, delivered on 22 May 2020. Xi’s words appeared on the dark green screen for me to memorise: ‘People come first, life comes first and we will protect people’s lives and health at all costs – General Secretary Xi Jinping.’

7 October

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